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A Critical Analysis of the Beatitudes from the Gospel According to Luke

A Critical Analysis of the Beatitudes from the Gospel According to Luke

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Published by jaketawney
"And he, lifting up his eyes on his disciples, said: Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." Thus begins the greatest sermon ever composed. These blessings are commonly referred to as the Beatitudes, which stems from the Latin word Beati, meaning “Blessed.” Servais Pinkares writes, “[T]he sermon on the Mount has been one of the chief sources of spiritual renewal known to the Church through the ages. Its fruitfulness is amply attested by its constant reappearance. There are few passages in Scripture that touch the Christian heart more surely and deeply, or that have a greater appeal for nonbelievers. Then Sermon on the Mount was one of Ghandiʼs favorite texts; he reproached Christians for their neglect of it” (The Sources of Christian Ethics, 135). As familiar as the words are to Christians and non-Christians alike, there is one word in particular that can very easily go unnoticed: is. In verses 21-23, every blessing promises a future reward for a present circumstance. Consider the first half of verse 21: “Blessed are ye that hunger now; for you shall be filled.” This indicates that those who experience hunger during their earthly time will be filled in the eschaton. The first beatitude (verse 20), however, seems to deliberately use the word is: “Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
"And he, lifting up his eyes on his disciples, said: Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." Thus begins the greatest sermon ever composed. These blessings are commonly referred to as the Beatitudes, which stems from the Latin word Beati, meaning “Blessed.” Servais Pinkares writes, “[T]he sermon on the Mount has been one of the chief sources of spiritual renewal known to the Church through the ages. Its fruitfulness is amply attested by its constant reappearance. There are few passages in Scripture that touch the Christian heart more surely and deeply, or that have a greater appeal for nonbelievers. Then Sermon on the Mount was one of Ghandiʼs favorite texts; he reproached Christians for their neglect of it” (The Sources of Christian Ethics, 135). As familiar as the words are to Christians and non-Christians alike, there is one word in particular that can very easily go unnoticed: is. In verses 21-23, every blessing promises a future reward for a present circumstance. Consider the first half of verse 21: “Blessed are ye that hunger now; for you shall be filled.” This indicates that those who experience hunger during their earthly time will be filled in the eschaton. The first beatitude (verse 20), however, seems to deliberately use the word is: “Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

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Published by: jaketawney on Oct 17, 2009
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A Critical Analysis of the Beatitudes from the Gospel According to LukeJ. Jacob Tawney1. The Text and an Introduction.Douay-RheimsLuke 6:20-26
20. And he, lifting up his eyes on his disciples, said: Blessed are ye poor, for yours isthe kingdom of God.21. Blessed are ye that hunger now; for you shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weepnow, for you shall laugh.22. Blessed shall you be when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you,and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man
ʼ
s sake.23. Be glad in that day and rejoice; for behold your reward is great in heaven. Foraccording to these things did their fathers to the prophets.24. But woe to you that are rich; for you have consolation.25. Woe to you that are filled; for you shall hunger. Woe to you that now laugh; for youshall mourn and weep.26. Woe to you when men shall bless you; for according to these things did theirfathers to the false prophets.Thus begins the greatest sermon ever composed. These blessings are commonlyreferred to as the Beatitudes, which stems from the Latin word
Beati,
meaning“Blessed.” Servais Pinkares writes, “[T]he sermon on the Mount has been one of thechief sources of spiritual renewal known to the Church through the ages. Its fruitfulnessis amply attested by its constant reappearance. There are few passages in Scripturethat touch the Christian heart more surely and deeply, or that have a greater appeal fornonbelievers. Then Sermon on the Mount was one of Ghandi
ʼ
s favorite texts; hereproached Christians for their neglect of it” (
The 
 
Sources of Christian Ethics 
, 135). Asfamiliar as the words are to Christians and non-Christians alike, there is one word inparticular that can very easily go unnoticed:
is
. In verses 21-23, every blessingpromises a future reward for a present circumstance. Consider the first half of verse 21:“Blessed are ye that hunger now; for you
shall be
filled.” This indicates that those whoexperience hunger during their earthly time will be filled in the eschaton. The firstbeatitude (verse 20), however, seems to deliberately use the word
is 
: “Blessed are yepoor, for yours
is
the kingdom of God.”
2. An interpretation of tense based on the Latin and Greek manuscripts.
I have three goals in this article. The first is to conduct a brief textual analysis of theLatin and the Greek from which the translation comes. The second is to present a gloss
 
of several interpretations of the passage from the Church Fathers. The third is toaddress the question
why 
Luke would speak of poverty in this manner and what Christmeans when he says, “Yours
is
the kingdom of heaven.” This last part will involve adiscussion about the nature of the kingdom of God, the nature of poverty, and acommentary on the role of the beatitude as a whole for the Christian moral life.To begin with, let us examine the Latin for this text from the
Nova Vulgate 
. In verse 20we find the verb
est 
, translated “to be.” This particular conjugation is the third-personsingular form of the verb in the present tense. It uses third-person because the subjectof the sentence is “the kingdom of God.” Contrast this with verse 21. We find theconstruction, “
Beati, qui nunc esuritis, quia saturabimini.
The Latin word
nunc 
 translates as “now,” and the verb
saturabimini 
is the second-person plural form of theverb
saturo 
, meaning “to satisfy.” The “-
bimini 
” ending indicates a future passive tense,hence the rendering “you shall be satisfied.” An identical construction governs the verb
ridebitis 
(from r
ideo,
meaning “to smile” or “to laugh”) in the second half of the verse.The only difference is that the ending is not future passive, but future active, thus therendering “you shall laugh” (with “you” as the subject). It is clear from the Latin the theDouay-Rheims translation is accurate. In verse 20, the action is clearly written in thepresent tense (“for your
is
the kingdom of God”) while in verse 21 the verb tense isfuture (“your shall be filled” and “you shall laugh”).Verse 23 is more interesting. The Douay-Rheims reads, “your reward
is
great inheaven.” At first glance this appears to be a present tense verb. However, the state ofreceiving a reward in heaven must be a future event by its very nature as the faithful arenot yet in heaven. Using a present tense verb to indicate a future state is commonlyknown as “future-present” tense. This tense is often used as opposed to simple futuretense to indicate either the immediacy of event or the assurance of its futureoccurrence. Consider another example: in the middle of an athletic competition weexclaim, “The game is won.” Clearly the game has not yet been won, but it is a way ofdescribing the assurance we have of a future event. While it seems very reasonable tointerpret this verse as a future-present tense, we should nonetheless examine the Latin.The corresponding Vulgate text reads, “
ecce enim merces vestra multa in caelo 
.”
Ecce 
 means “behold” (as in Pilate
ʼ
s devastatingly concise, “
Ecce homo 
!” translated, “Beholdthe man!”)
Enim 
is best translated “for” or even “truly.”
Merces 
means “reward,” and
vestra 
means “yours.” Finally, the phrase
multa in caelo 
is rendered “great in heaven.”This exhausts all the words in the phrase, and we must note that the verb “to be” (in thiscase “is”) is found nowhere in the sentence. While the absence of a conjugation of “tobe” is more common in Latin than in English (it is often implied), we should note that thisparticular sentence is not without a verb. At the start of the phrase we find theimperative
ecce 
(“behold”). This phrase is essentially a command, and therefore isrendered literally, “for behold your great reward in heaven.” The Douay-Rheims placesthe verb “is” in as a deliberate choice, probably as a literary device intended forclarification purposes and for aesthetic enhancement. Without it, the meaning of thephrase can be ambiguous. Are we to behold a reward that is in heaven or to behold agreat reward while we are in heaven? The present tense of the imperative (
ecce 
) isfitting as Luke is commanding the reader to “behold” in the here-and-now, but the
 
reward which will be received in heaven is (from context) a future event. Thus, it seemsreasonable to interpret the Douay-Rheims tense for this passage as future-presentinstead of merely present.In light of this, why could we not interpret verse 20 as a future-present tense? Whycould we not see the phrase, “yours is the kingdom of God” in a similar vein as “thegame is won” and “your reward is great in heaven?” The key to this is found not merelyin verse 20, but rather in the contrast between 20 and 23. The absence of the verb
est 
 in verse 23 draws our intention even more to its presence in verse 20. The Latin couldhave chosen a similar construction here as it used in verse 23. A possible Englishrendering could have been, “Blessed are ye poor, for behold your kingdom in heaven.”If this had been the case, we could perhaps make a case for an implied future-presenttense in verse 20 to parallel the tense in verse 23. It seems more reasonable, however,to see the placement of the verb in verse 20 as deliberate, and hence to interpret it as apresent tense phrase.We next turn to the Greek. To do so, we use the
Textus Receptus 
. While I recognizethat this might not be the best source to use for Luke
ʼ
s Gospel, it is representative of theother Greek sources in terms of the verb tenses. My experience in textual criticism isquite limited, but I from what I understand, the verb tenses in most of the respectableGreek sources are consistent in the passage I am considering. As with the Latin, webegin with verse 20. As a side note, we must recognize that some English translationswill use the phrase “poor” while others use the phrase “poor in spirit.This difference isdue to variations in the ancient Greek manuscripts. While “poor in spirit” is common inmany of the Greek variations, two of the most prominent manuscripts use theconstruction “poor” (without the addition of the modifier “in spirit”). The first is
Papyrus 75 
, which contains the earliest known transcription of Luke
ʼ
s Gospel. This is a keymanuscript because of its early dating (175-225 A.D.). The second, dating to the middleof the fourth century, is the
Codex Vaticanus 
. While this phrase is not the essential partof the passage under discussion at the moment, it will become important when we laterdiscuss the meaning of Christ
ʼ
s words.Moving on to the question of verb tense, we note that the Greek word
humetera 
,meaning “yours,” is an adjective that is modifying the noun “kingdom” (
basileia 
). Whileat first it seems that this construction need not contain a verb at all (in English we couldsimply say “your kingdom” instead of “the kingdom is yours,” it should be noted thatLuke deliberately places the present tense form of the verb
eimi 
(“is”) here. Thus, muchlike in the case of the Latin, there is a clear emphasis on the present tense.The deliberateness once again becomes more obvious when looking at the subsequentpassages. In verse 21, as in the Latin, the Greek uses a future passive voice. TheGreek word
kortasthaysesthe 
is rendered “you shall be fed,” as the passive voice isindicated by the
thay 
and the
(indictating a future tense) preceding the
esthe 
 (indicating second-person plural). In the second part of verse 21, we find a similarconstruction but for the lack of passive voice (again parallel to the Latin).
Gelasate 
is

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